Seattle Teachers Reject District's Contract Offer

Aug 27, 2013

Correction 8/27/13: In a previous version, the length of the district's contract offer was stated as three years. The current offer is for a two-year contract. The length of the contract is negotiable.

Seattle's teachers' union voted down the school district's two-year contract offer Monday night at Seattle Education Association's general membership meeting at Benaroya Hall.

Reporters were not allowed inside the meeting, but teachers said that the voice vote was nearly unanimous, with only several teachers of the hundreds present supporting the contract offer.

Wedgwood Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Siobhan Kelly said she voted against the district's offer in part because the district is not proposing enough of a pay raise: two percent for each of the next two years, compared to the 2.5 percent increase unions have won in some neighboring districts.

"We've had several years with no pay increases, and we haven't had the cost of living increase," Kelly said. "I know that as a family our health premiums have gone up quite a bit, and this year they're going up substantially."

"The biggest [issue] is the evaluation. That's the biggest one for me," said Hamilton International Middle School sixth-grade language arts and social studies teacher Dana Radcliffe.

Like Kelly, Radcliffe cited as a major factor in his "no" vote the district's proposal to keep students' scores on the statewide Measurements of Student Progress standardized test a required part of teacher evaluations for those who teach the tested subjects on the MSP: reading and math. 

Teachers object to that scheme because, for reading and math teachers, it would be in addition to the new evaluation system the union has  already bargained for with the district in order to comply with the state's new teacher evaluation law. State law now requires that student academic achievement factor into evaluations for teachers of all subjects; so the district and union had agreed on a system that would let teachers and principals work out the measures that would be used, with test scores only one option.

After the vote, SEA President Jonathan Knapp called the night "a big moment for Seattle's educators." Talks between the union and district broke down last Thursday after district negotiators told the union there would be no new offer from the district on Friday. "With this overwhelming response from our membership, the district should understand that they need to move on these issues," Knapp said.

Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Jose Banda called the teachers' vote "a bit disappointing," but said the district will return to the bargaining table this week.

It won't be clear whether school will start on time September 4 until the night before, when the union holds its next general membership meeting to vote on whether to ratify another version of the contract.

Meanwhile, teachers in South Kitsap School District voted Monday night to strike, citing overwhelming class sizes following teacher layoffs last school year.